Mining the Blogs

Still the Most Personal and Useful Way to Self-Publish

“Here’s a papercraft kit to build a full-scale AK47 assault rifle replica. It’s 30$. (Thanks Ben).” Next to the message, there’s a picture of the assault rifle readily assembled.

Elsewhere we learn that peyote dealers in the border region between Mexico and the US suffer from supply shortages due to wide spread “root plowing.” Native American church members are the only ones legally allowed to consume the drug and have done so excessively for the past two decades.

Oh, and a crocodile in Taiwan bit off its keeper’s arm, which now dangles from the massive jaws. Thanx to Mike Love for the photo!

No, this is not taken from yet another weird website showering us with dubious advertising; this is boingboing.net, one of the most visited blogs currently online. According to Alexa.com a leading web information company (accessed 16.17.2007), boingboing.net drew 0.065 percent of global Internet users to its site over the last three months. The average BoingBoing user views about 1.5 sites, meaning most users find what they are looking for on the homepage.

But what is blogging? And is it really so promising?

“To me, blogging is still the most personal and useful way to self-publish,” said Wired Magazine’s Mark Frauenfelder. “I can’t bear Myspace pages, because they are all so damn ugly and confusing to me. I like youtube, and its great that people can embed youtube videos on their blogs.”

Frauenfelder has worked at Wired Magazine for 5 years; he also illustrates comic books and recently published his web tutorial Rule the Web. He is also cofounder of BoingBoing.

Frauenfelder may seem to point to the obvious, but on second thought, his reach goes further, shedding light on the success of blogging overall: Myspace pages are users’ profiles; regardless of the freedom to design they do not exceed the purpose of self-presentation. Youtube is a video sharing tool that lacks a sense of community. Online communities such as facebook create isolated areas of people who know each other from another milieu.

Blogs are open form.

At first sight BoingBoings’ disadvantage seems to be the design; one large column of text, separated by simple line dividers, stretches endlessly into the vast space of the monitor. The right column is reserved for ads, which in Frauenfelders case are now a source of “serious income.”

I begin to scroll down, no need to repeat the randomness of content. I see pictures. Then little video screens, showing the latest contributions to BoingBoing TV. A sound bite here or there. Every little picture is the proprietor of its own comments section, thick with thoughts and cross references. I click on the picture of the blender-shaped baby-bath and sink into the 26 comments that erupt into a conversation about British hygiene habits. What started as a spark of interest solidified into a stream of resources in all shapes and sizes, gluing me to the screen in anticipation. I end up watching “Will it blend?”, a TV show that attempts to blend everyday household items. The catchy slogan is also the hypothetical question posed before each show, after which, in my case, the iPhone is chucked into a blender. It didn’t blend.

I’m not an experienced blogger, yet even I discover the efficiency of a user created cloud of information generated around a blogged topic. The resources a blog provides are not only endless but versatile. Finding information on a blog is like looking for the address on a map; once you know the coordinates the street is quickly found.

“There are millions of blogs out there, I particularly like blogger.com or the BBC blog. It features blogs of well trained, professional journalists who contribute in a manner that cannot be found when reading their publicized works,” says Paul Gillingwater, the CEO of Lanifex, an internet security company and professor of IT at Webster Vienna.  I wonder why he makes the effort to blog along with his other commitments.

“I’m a workaholic,” he admits, “but that aside my blog www.security-risk.blogspot.com provides me with a platform where I can write freely, creatively. I take on issues concerning Internet risk management, which I not only enjoy but which also relates back to my other work. It’s part of my work ethic to combine the two, plus it strengthens the bonds to my customers.” Mark Frauenfelder of BoingBoing goes further:

“Blogs are smart for any business or organization. They are a great way to communicate with customers and clients. The secret is to make sure [that] bloggers on corporate blogs are given free reign to be honest. If they are just shills for the company, the blog will suck and people will not want anything to do with it.”

Blogging as a creative, customer enticing platform for workaholics who like to keep a virtual diary? I am confused.

Where is the classification, how can blogging be pinpointed to a genre, an area of study or research? What does it stem from? It combines various forms of media on a discussion platform, depending on its origin a blog’s initial topic will point the way, only to shoot off in all directions afterwards. What use can someone make of that?

Then it dawns on me and my corporately branded mind.

Blogging is a tool created for everyone, by everyone. It doesn’t need an identity. It has no omnipresent beneficiary, no Rupert Murdoch or Bill Gates. We don’t have to identify with the blog as such, it’s neither Pepsi nor Coke. It’s an idea, a set of beliefs or even a moral conduct. It’s gasoline, regardless of the car it powers. Yes blogging might be one of the few things we get for free, no strings attached. Blogging has no brand identity. People return to them for the issues discussed, or the people behind them.

“I think there is some truth to that, but I also have friends who don’t write anything interesting, or only once in a long time – these aren’t pages you visit everyday. In today’s internet world, content is king. Yes, you can get a lot of people to read what you have to say if you are well-known, but your readership will not stick around if it’s not worth their time.”

University student Phillip Conrad is a declared tech addict. He’s the guy you never see without a laptop, or far away from a power plug. He is also a consumer and member of the “blogosphere,” the term which wraps a definition around the vast nature of blogging. Phil is quick to find the street on a map.

So assuming Phil knows the truth, and “content is king,” are we moving towards a content-led Internet society and away from brand loyalties? Or has it become yet another item on media moguls “to-buy” list?

It is precisely the versatile and open-minded nature of blogs that prevents it from getting a corporate stamp altogether. In today’s world we hold great values to the freedom of speech and uncensored opinions. Blogging might just be a new layer of that freedom, kicking in virtual barriers for those with the urge to public self-expression. No it’s not selective; sometimes it confronts us with an intimidating amount of options.

These options are also a wonderful display of our liberties in a developed global society, one in which we can consume or leave – just “not stick around if it’s not worth our time.”

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